real life

'I loved him, I loathed him. Then my first love died.'

My first love, my husband and father of my first child died on Friday, 8th May, 2015

He died of liver and bone cancer and I was not there and had not seen him for 17 years. I know it was 17 years because I left him when our daughter was nine months old.

It has been a maelstrom of emotion since I found out he had finally karked it? – ?tellingly from a friend request (then reading the feed and confirming by direct messaging on Facebook) from the man who was Rob’s best friend, and best man at our wedding on a beach in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Here’s why it has been such chaos of feeling…

Robert John Lee Mulqueeny was made up of two people. One was funny, caring, loving, beautiful. The other was snarling, irrational, selfish, shallow. But I do not want to focus on or speak about the latter version of Rob. I want to speak about the first.

Robert and their daughter.

But I can’t.

I can’t because all of my memories are of terrible times. I try to remember back to why I loved him so much I would abandon everything just to speak to him for a few moments on the phone. Why I left my life in England to live in the remote mines and Aboriginal settlements of Australia where he chose to work in as a chef, often in caravans and temporary accommodation; because in my 20s nothing else mattered other than being with the man I loved with every fibre of my being.

But I can’t. I can’t remember.

I can remember sitting in a car park about two years ago and answering a telephone call from him. His comms were often bizarre, and I never knew which Rob was sending them. More often than not, the latter Rob would reach out, but this time, it was my real Rob. We talked for two hours at least. We talked about our daughter, about our love affair that he referred to as the greatest love affair ever (rose-tinted glasses there as I assured him at the time, and he laughed) but it was magical, and intense. We laughed. I cried a bit, not that he knew but I cried because all I wanted then was for us to be whole and together but I knew it was fleeting, these moments of Rob 1.

What I remember is the lightness of being that I felt after that conversation. Also the sadness. I remember thinking: I know you will die, I know you will ultimately kill yourself with your goddamn vices and bloody mindedness, but we have had that chat just now, and I can be at peace…

But I never really imagined I would be living this day I am living now.

Why did you go and actually die?

Why can I not remember the good times?

I look at old photos of us and I remember how much I loved him in those times, but I cannot remember the picnics and can only see the moments captured. I cannot remember the conversations. I cannot remember why I laughed and loved him, but I know I did.


I can remember every terrible word. Every barb. Every scene of awful, awfulness. In such detail. But I don’t want to.

Rob was my love, and I want to remember why. I need to remember why. I know our daughter was the greatest celebration of our love. Our wedding, me being seven months pregnant (classy as ever). I know it happened, I cannot remember it.

But I know that on the day we both knew that this was not a wedding for us, it was for Jess?—?our daughter. It was a great day, I think… it looks like it was, I cannot remember. So that she would always know that we once loved each other enough to marry each other.

I still retain his name. I always will.

Emma (via Twitter)

I am going to find a way to make my mind remember the good times, how can they have been so completely wiped? And I am burning the old diaries I ended up having to keep for the police. For what reason, I don’t know. I was stuck in an abusive cycle then of my own making as much as he was at fault. I am keeping the diaries buried deep in my attic from the days when I was travelling, and I met you for the first time, and you romanced me hard and we fell ridiculously in love.

He was my first love. He *is* my first love.

Why can I not remember?

He never made my life hard after I left. He just carried on killing himself. He was always lovely to our daughter, albeit remotely. And the time he did not turn up to meet her when I came to Australia with her, he could not. I knew he wouldn’t. But it was not because he didn’t want to. It was Rob 2 taking over.

He was on his own path of self destruction.

I love you Robert John Lee Mulqueeny. I am determined to remember why! And our good times. But I *know* I love you. And I also know that you loved me. What I would give for one last conversation, but goodness knows what that would have been. In the end it was that two hour convo on the phone in a car park?—?but we made our peace, and I came off that call as giddy and in love with you as I was when I was 18.

On Saturday your ashes will be scattered on Nightcliff beach, where we got married. One day I will bring our daughter there. If only it were not for such a sad reunion.

An AA counsellor told me once that addicts can never retain relationships, you will always lose as a partner in such a situation?—?if you stay you will be blamed, if you leave they will move on. Ultimately they are in a downward spiral to death. And here we are. So please don’t read this post as a signal to stay in an abusive relationship with an addict. I am just saying, treasure and store up the memories so that you have something else to carry you through their death. I had no idea I had obliterated them from my mind.

Emma is the founder of Rewired State and Young Rewired State, is a Commissioner for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy and a Google Fellow.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

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